Chapter 4: Skywatchers in the Jungles

“The Maya mystique seized the imagination and curiosity of Europeans from the moment the Spaniards first set foot in the Yucatan peninsula and saw the vestiges of cities lost in the jungle.

“…With other interests in their minds, such as the search for riches and the conversion of the natives to Christianity, it took nearly two centuries for the Spaniards to turn their attention to the ruins. It was only 1785 that a royal commission inspected the then-discovered ruins of Palenque.

Lord Kingsborough, and Landa have been an invaluable source of data on the Maya past.

“But in the popular mind, the honor of launching the archaeological discovery of the Maya civilization belongs to a native of New Jersey, John L. Stephens. Appointed U.S. envoy to the Central American Federation, he went to the Maya lands with his friend Frederick Catherwood, an accomplished artist.

“…The team’s reports were especially detailed regarding the great sites of Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, and Copan… Of particular importance was the realization that some of the symbols and glyphs carved upon the monuments in fact stated the date thereof, so that the Maya civilization could be placed in a time frame.

“…We could have known much more about the Maya from their own extensive literature – books that were written on paper made from tree barks and laminated with white lime to create a base for the inked glyphs. But these books, by the hundreds, were systematically destroyed by the Spanish priests – most notable by the very same Bishop Landa who ended up being the one who preserved much of the “pagan” information in his own writings.

“Only three (or, if authentic, a fourth) codices (“picture books”) have remained. The parts scholars find most interesting in them are the sections dealing with astronomy. Two other major literary works are also available because they had been rewritten, either from original picture-books or from oral traditions, into the native tongues but using Latin script.

“One of these is the books of Chilam Balam, meaning the Oracles of Utterings of Balam the priest… Balam, it appears, was a kind of a Maya “Edgar Cayce”; the books record information regarding the mythical past and the prophetic future, on rites and rituals, astrology, and medical advice.

“The word balam means “jaguar” in the native tongue, and has caused much consternation among scholars, for it has no apparent connection with oracles. We find it intriguing, however, that in ancient Egypt a class of priests called Shem-priests, who pronounced oracles during certain royal ceremonies as well as secret formulas intended to “Open the Mouth” so that a deceased pharaoh could join the gods in the Afterlife wore leopard skins. Maya depictions of similarly clad priests have been found; since in the Americas this would have to be a jaguar skin rather than that of an African leopard, this could explain the “jaguar” meaning of the name of Balam. It would also indicate, once more, an Egyptian ritual influence.

Image: Palace and Temples at Palenque

Palace and Temples at Palenque.


Image: Wall of Jaguar Temple at Chichen Itza

Wall of Jaguar Temple at Chichen Itza.


Image: Jaguar Sculpture at Uxmal Palace

Jaguar Sculpture at Uxmal Palace.


Image: Mayan Ruins at Copan, Honduras.

Mayan Ruins at Copan, Honduras.

“We are even more intrigued by the similarity of this name of the Maya oracle-priest to that of the seer Balaam, who, according to the Bible, was retained by the king of Moab during the Exodus to put a curse on the Israelites, but who ended up being pronounced their favorable oracle. Was this just a coincidence?

“The other book is the Popol Vuh, the “Council Book” of the highland Maya. It gives an account of divine and human origins and of royal genealogies; its cosmogony and creation traditions are basically similar to those of the Nahuatl peoples, indicating a common original source. Regarding Maya origins the Popol Vuh states that their forefathers had come “from the other side of the sea.” Landa wrote that the Indians “have heard from their ancestors that his land was occupied by a race of people who came from the East and whom God had delivered by opening twelve paths through the sea.” These statements are in accord with a Maya tale known as the Legend of Votan… The legend relates the arrival in Yucatan, circa 1000 B.C. by the chronicler’s calculations, of “the first man whom God had sent to this region to people and parcel out the land that is now called America.” His name was Votan (meaning unknown); his emblem was the Serpent. “He was descendant of the Guardians, of the race of Can. His place of origin was a land called Chivim.” He made a total of four voyages. The first time he landed he established a settlement near the coast. After some time he advanced inland and “at the tributary of a great river built a city which was the cradle of this civilization.” He called the city Nachan, “which means Place of Serpents.” On his second visit he surveyed the newfound land examining its subterranean zones and underground passages; one such passage was said to have gone right through a mountain near Nachan. When he returned to America the fourth time he found discord and rivalry among the people. So he divided the realm into four domains, establishing a city to serve as the capital of each. Palenque is mentioned as one of them; another appears to have been near the Pacific coast. The others are unknown.

“…Zelia Nuttal… pointed out that the Maya word for serpent, Can, paralleled the Hebrew Canaan. If so, the Maya legend, telling that Votan was of the race of Can and his symbol was the serpent, could be using a play of words to state that Votan came from Canaan. This certainly justifies our wondering why Nachan, “Place of Serpents,” is virtually identical to the Hebrew Nachash that means “serpent.”

“Such legends strengthen the scholarly school that considers the Gulf Coast as the place where Yucatec civilization began – not only of the Maya, but also of the earlier Olmecs. In this view much consideration has to be given to a site that is little known to visitors, which belongs to the very beginnings of Maya culture “between 2000 and 1000 B.C. if not earlier,” according to its excavators from Tulane University – National Geographic Society. Called Dzibilchalum, it is situated near the port city Progreso on Yucatan’s northwest coast. The remains, extending over an area of twenty square miles, reveals that the city was occupied from the earliest times through Spanish times, its edifices having been built and rebuilt and overbuilt, and its cut and ornamented stones having been hauled away to be used in Spanish and modern constructions near and far. Besides immense temples and pyramids, the city’s outstanding feature is a Great White Way, a cause way paved with limestone that ran straight for a mile and a half as an east-west axis to the city.

Image: Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltun, Yucatan. Used as an offering well.

Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltun, Yucatan. Used as an offering well.


Image: Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzibilchaltun.

Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzibilchaltun.


Image: Castle at Tulum overtaken by vegetation. From John L. Stephens Voyage to Yucatan, by Frederick Catherwood.

Castle at Tulum overtaken by vegetation. From John L. Stephens Voyage to Yucatan, by Frederick Catherwood.


Image: Head of Itzanma at Izamal, from John L. Stephens Voyage to Yucatan.

Head of Itzanma at Izamal, from John L. Stephens Voyage to Yucatan.

“A string of major Maya cities stretches across the northern tip of Yucatan, bearing names well know not just to archaeologists but to millions of visitors: Uxmal, Izamal, Mayapan, Chichen Itza, Tulum – to mention the most outstanding sites. Each played a role in Maya history…

“Notwithstanding all this legendary and archaeological evidence, another school of archaeologists believes that Maya culture – or at least the Mayas themselves – originated in the southern highlands (today’s Guatemala), spreading from there northward. Studies of the Maya language trace its origin to a “a proto-Maya community that, perhaps around 2600 B.C. existed in what is now the departments of Huehuetenango in northwest Guatemala.” (D.S. Morales, The Maya World).

Image: Miners Quarrying Stone, Huehuetenango, Highlands, Guatemala.

Miners Quarrying Stone, Huehuetenango, Highlands, Guatemala.

“But wherever and however Maya civilization developed, scholars consider the second millennium B.C. as its “Pre-Classic” phase and the beginning of the “Classic” phase of maximal achievement circa A.D. 200; by A.D. 900 the realm of the Maya extended from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean… And then, five centuries before the Spanish arrival, for reasons unknown, the Maya abandoned their sacred cities and let the jungle take them over.

Palenque, one of the earliest Maya cities… its fame and allure took off only after the discovery in 1949 (by Alberto Ruiz Lhuillier) that the stepped pyramid called the Temple of Inscriptions contained a secret internal stairway that led all the way down. Several years of excavation and removal of the soil and debris that fell and hid the inner structure yielded in the end a most exciting discovery: a burial chamber. At the bottom of the twisting stairway a triangular stone block masked an entranceway through the blank wall that was still guarded by the skeletons of Maya warriors. Behind there was a vaulted crypt, its walls painted with murals. Within, a stone sarcophagus was covered by a large rectangular stone slab that weighs about five tons and is 12 1/2 feet long. When this stone lid was moved, there came into view the skeletal remains of a tall man, still bedecked with pearls and jade jewelry. His face was covered with a mosaic jade mask; a small jade pendant bearing the image of a deity lay among the beads that once were a jade collar.

“The discovery was astounding, for until then no other pyramid or temple in Mexico had been found to have served as a tomb. The enigma of the tomb and its occupant was deepened by the depiction carved upon the stone lid: was the image of a barefoot Maya sitting upon a plumed or flaming throne and seemingly operating mechanical devices inside an elaborate chamber. The Ancient Astronaut Society and its sponsor, Erich Von Daniken, have seen in this a depiction of an astronaut inside a spacecraft driven by flaming jets. They suggest that an Extraterrestrial is buried here.

Image: Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque.

Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque.

“Archaeologists and scholars ridicule the idea. Inscriptions of the walls of this funerary edifice and in adjoining structures convince them that the person buried here is the ruler Pacal (“Shield”) who reigned in Palenque in A.D. 615-683. Some see in the scene a depiction of the deceased Pacal being taken by the Dragon of the Underworld to the realm of the dead; they consider the fact that at the winter solstice the Sun sets exactly behind the Temple of Inscriptions as added symbolism of the king’s departure with the setting Sun God. Others, prompted to revised interpretations by the fact that the depiction is framed by a Sky Band, a chain of glyphs that represent celestial bodies and the zodiac constellations, regard the scene as showing the king being carried by the Celestial Serpent to the celestial realm of the gods. The crosslike object that the deceased is facing is now recognized as a stylized Tree of Life, suggesting that the king is being transported to an eternal afterlife.

“In fact a similar tomb, known as Burial 116, was discovered in the Great plaza of Tikal, at the foot of one of its major pyramids.

Image: Tikal Great Plaza, Guatemala.

Tikal Great Plaza, Guatemala.


Image: Tikal Great Plaza, Guatemala.

Tikal Great Plaza, Guatemala.

“…All considered, scholars have admitted that “one cannot avoid an implicit comparison to the crypts of the Egyptian pharaohs. The similarities between the tomb of Pacal and those who ruled earlier beside the Nile are striking” (H. La Fay The Maya, Children of Time in the National Geographic Magazine). Indeed, the scene on Pacal’s sarcophagus conveys the very same image as that of a pharaoh transported, by the Winged Serpent, to an eternal afterlife among the gods who came from the heavens. The pharaoh who was not an astronaut, had become one upon his death; and that, we suggest, is what the carved scene has implied for Pacal.

“…The construction of an airstrip near Tikal‘s ruins speeded up its exploration after 1950 and extensive archaeological work has been conducted there especially by teams from the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. They discovered that the great plazas of Tikal served as a necropolis, where rulers and noblemen were buried; also, that many of the lesser structures were in fact funerary temples, built not over the tombs but next to them and serving as cenotaphs. They also uncovered about one hundred and fifty stelas, carved stone slabs erected mostly so as to face either east or west. They depict, it was ascertained, portraits of actual rulers and commemorate major events in their lives and reigns. The hieroglyphic inscriptions carved upon them recorded accurate dates associated with these events, named the ruler by his hieroglyph (here “Jaguar Paw Skull,” A.D. 488) and identified the event; the textual hieroglyphs, scholars are by now certain, were not merely pictorial or ideographic “but also written phonetically in syllables similar to those of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian” (A.G. Miller, Maya Rulers of Time).

“…But as ongoing discoveries and excavations have shown, site after new site in Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize indicates the existence of monuments and dated stelas as early as 600 B.C., revealing a developed system of writing that , all scholars agree, must have had a prior developmental phase or source.

“Students of the Maya civilization have been especially impressed by the accuracy, ingenuity and diversity of Maya time reckoning, attributing them to an advanced Maya astronomy.

“The Maya had, indeed, not one but three calendars, but one – the most significant one in our opinion – had nothing to do with astronomy. It is the so called Long Count. It stated a date by counting the number of days that had passed from a certain starting day to the day of the event recorded by the Maya on the stela or monument. The enigmatic Day One, most scholars now agree, was August 13, 3113 B.C. according the current Christian calendar – a time and an event that clearly preceded the emergence of the Maya civilization.

Mr. Sitchin at this point explains the “vigesimal system” (times twenty). Then continues:

“…But, as stated, in their actual calendrical dating on their monuments, the Maya went back not to the age of the dinosaurs but to a specific day, an event as crucial to them as the date of Christ’s birth is to the followers of the Christian calendar. Thus Stela 29 at Tikal, which bears the earliest date so far found on a royal monument there (A.D. 292), gives the Long Count date of a total of 1,243, 615 days.

“Dividing the 1,243,615 days by the number of days in a solar year, 364¼, the date on the stela states that it, or the event depicted on it, occurred 3,404 years and 304 days after the mysterious Day One; i.e., since August 13, 3113 B.C. Therefore, according to the now accepted correlation, the date on the stela is A.D. 292 (3,405 – 3,113 = 292). Some scholars see evidence that the Maya began to use the Long Count in the era of Baktun 7, which equaled the fourth century B.C.; others do not dismiss an even earlier use.

Image: Castillo Temple-Pyramid. It might have symbolized the Maya Calendar Haab, Chichen Itza, Yucatan.

Castillo Temple-Pyramid. It might have symbolized the Maya Calendar Haab, Chichen Itza, Yucatan.

“Alongside this continuous calendar there were two cyclical calendars. One was the Haab or Solar Year of 365 days that was divided into 18 months of 20 days, plus an additional 5 days at year’s end.

“The other (cyclical calendar) was the Tzolkin or Sacred Year calendar in which the 20 basic days were rotated 13 times, resulting in a Sacred Year of 260 days. The two cyclical calendars were then meshed together, as though they were gear wheels driven by each other to create the grand Sacred Round of 52 solar years; for the combination of 13, 20, and 365 could not repeat itself except once in 18,980 days, which equals 52 years. This Calendar Round of 52 years was sacred to all the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica and they related to it events both past and future – such as the messianic expectation of the return of Quetzalcoatl.

“The earliest Sacred Round date was found in Mexico’s Oaxaca valley and goes back to 500 B.C. Both time reckoning systems, the continuing one and the Sacred Round one, are quite old. One is historical, continuing the passage of time (days) from an event in the long-ago whose significance and nature are still a puzzle. The other is cyclical, geared to a peculiar period of 260 days; scholars are still trying to guess what, if anything, happened or still happens once every 260 days.

“Some believe that this cycle is purely mathematical… Others suggest that the period of 260 days had to do with agriculture… In view of the Mayan propensity for astronomy, others attempt to somehow calculate a relationship between 260 days and the motions of Venus or Mars. One must wonder why a solution offered by Zelia Nuttal at the Twenty Second International Congress of Americanists (Rome, 1926) did not gain the full recognition it deserves. She pointed out that the easiest way for the people of the New World to apply seasonal movements of the Sun to their own locality was to determine Zenith Days, when the Sun passed precisely overhead at midday. This happens twice a year as the Sun appears to travel northward, then southward, passing overhead twice. The Indians, she suggested, measured the interval between the two Zenith Days and the resulting number of days became the basis for the Calendar Round… The interval was precisely 260 days at latitude 14 degrees 42′ north – the latitude of Copan.

Image: Pyramid on Mt. Alban overlooking Oaxaca Valley, Mexico.

Pyramid on Mt. Alban overlooking Oaxaca Valley, Mexico.

“…Copan was consider the astronomical capital of the Maya. Besides the usual celestial orientation of its edifices, some of its stelas have been found to be aligned for determining key calendar dates.

“…The reputation of the Maya as accomplished astronomers has been enhanced by the fact that their various codices contain astronomical sections dealing with solar and lunar eclipses and the planet Venus. Closer study of the data revealed, however, that these were not records of observations by the Maya astronomers. Rather, they were almanacs copied from some earlier sources that provided the Maya with ready-made data against which they were to look for phenomena applicable to the 260-day cycle…

“The main task of the local astronomers, it appears, was to keep verifying or adjusting the 260-day sacred year against data from earlier times that dealt with the movements of celestial bodies. Indeed, the most renown and still standing observatory in Yucatan, the Caracol in Chichen Itza, has frustrated successive researchers who have tried, in vain, to find in its orientation and aperture viewlines to the solstices or equinoxes. Some viewlines, however, do seem to be related to the Tzolkin 260-day cycle.

Image: El Caracol, Maya Observatory at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico.

El Caracol, Maya Observatory at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico.

“The number 260 appears to have been an arbitrary, deliberate choice; the explanation that it results from multiplying a natural number, 20 (the number of fingers and toes), by 13 only shifts the problem to the question, Why and Wherefrom 13? The Long Count too contains an arbitrary number, 360; inexplicably it abandons the pure vigesimal progression and, after the kin (1) and uinal (20), introduces the tun (360) into the system. The Haab calendar also considers 360 as its basic length, dividing this number into 18 “months” of 20 days; it rounds off the year by the addition of 5 “bad days” to complete the solar cycle of 365.

“All the three calendars thus are based on numbers that are not natural, numbers deliberately selected. We will show that both 260 and 360 reached Mesoamerica from Mesopotamia – via Egypt.

“We are all familiar with the number 360: it is the number of degrees in a circle. But few know that we owe the number to the Sumerians, and that it stems from their sexagesimal (“Base 60”) mathematical system. The first known calendar was the Nippur Calendar of the Sumerians; it was devised by dividing the circle of 360 into 12 parts, twelve being the sacred celestial number from which followed the twelve months of the year, the twelve houses of the zodiac, the twelve Olympian gods, and so on. The problem of the shortfall of 5¼ days was solved by intercalation – the addition of a thirteenth month after the passage of a number of years.

Image: The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac.

The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac.

“…The Sumerian imprint on the Egyptian and hence the Mesoamerican calendars was not limited to the sexagesimal number 360. Various studies, principally by B.P. Reko, in the early issues of El Mexico Antiguo, leave little doubt that the thirteen months of the Tzolkin calendar were in fact a reflection of the 12-month system of the Sumerians plus the thirteenth intercalary month, except that in Egypt ( and hence in Mesoamerica) the thirteenth month had shrunk to an annual 5 days. The term tun for 360 meant in the Maya language “celestial,” a star or planet within the zodiacal band. Interestingly, a “heap of stars” – a constellation – was called Mool, virtually the same term MUL that the Sumerians had used to mean “celestial body.”

“The association of the Mesopotamian calendar with the Old World will become additionally evident as we look at the most sacred number, 52, to which all the great Mesopotamian events were geared. The many attempts to explain it (like the statement that it is 13 times 4) ignore its most obvious source: the 52 weeks of the Near Eastern calendar (and thereafter the European one). This number of weeks, however, is arrived at only if a week of 7 days is adopted. This was not always the case. The origin of a 7-day week has been a subject of study for almost two centuries and the best theory is that it derived from the four phases of the Moon. What is certain is that it emerged as a divinely decreed time period in biblical times, when God commanded the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt to observe the seventh day as the Sabbath.

Image: Relief of Thoth at Abydos.

Relief of Thoth at Abydos.

“…Although a deity whose epithet was “Seven” was a principal Sumerian god, he was honored with theophonic place, e.g., Beer-Sheba, (The Well of Seven) or personal names Elisheva, (My God is Seven) principally in the land of Canaan. The number 7 as a revered number appears in the tales of the Hebrew patriarchs only after Abraham went to Egypt and stayed at the pharaoh’s court. The number 7 permeates the biblical tale of Joseph, the pharaoh’s dream and the ensuing events in Egypt. And, to the extent that 52 stemmed from the consideration of 7 as a basic calendrical unit, we will show that this most sacred cycle of Mesoamerica was of Egyptian origin.

“More specifically: 52 was a magical number that was associated with the Egyptian god Thoth, the god of science, writing, mathematics, and the calendar.

Mr. Sitchin ends this chapter by telling the tale of Satni-Khamois:

“The Adventures of Satni-Khamois with the Mummies”

…son of a pharaoh, “was well instructed in all things.” He was wont to wander in the necropolis of Memphis (then the capital). He was in search of a book that the god Thoth had written with his own hands, “in which are revealed the mysteries of the Earth and the secrets of the Heavens…”

Satni had to remove the book, which was in a box of gold, inside a box of silver, that was inside a series of other boxes, the last and outer ones being of bronze and iron, from a Pharaoh’s tomb, the pharaoh was Nenoferkheptah (“scholars believe , that he reigned circa 1250 B.C.), who although buried with his sister-wife and their son, they were not dead but in suspended animation, they could see, hear, and speak, this was a curse placed on them by Thoth when Nenoferkheptah stole the book.

When Satni finally arrived to the tomb, even having been warned of the dangers, and as he was approaching the Pharaoh’s feet, where the boxes with the book was, he entered in a dialogue, and a warning, with Nenoferkheptah:

“There was a way to possess the book without incurring Thoth’s wrath, he said: it was to play and win the Game of Fifty-Two, the magical number of Thoth.”

Satni agreed. Unfortunately he lost the first and subsequent games, sinking in the ground a bit further down as he lost each game.

Image: First and Second Pyramids of Giza. Ancient Memphis; by Luigi Mayer.

First and Second Pyramids of Giza. Ancient Memphis; by Luigi Mayer.

“How he managed to escape with the book, the calamities that befell him as a result, and how he in the end returned it to its hiding place , make up the rest of this ancient version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“The tale’s moral was that no man, as knowledgeable as he might be, could learn the mysteries of the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and the planets without divine permission; unauthorized by Thoth, Man will lose the Game of Fifty-Two. And he would lose it even if he tried to find out the secrets by opening up the protective layers of Earth’s minerals and metals.

“It is our belief that it was the same Thoth, alias Quetzalcoatl, who had bestowed the Calendar of Fifty-Two, and all other knowledge, upon the peoples of Mesoamerica. In Yucatan the Maya called him Kukulcan; in the Pacific regions of Guatemala and El Salvador he was called Xiuhtecuhtli; the names all mean the same: Feathered or Winged Serpent.

Image: Stairs up Kukulcan, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico.

Stairs up Kukulcan, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico.


Image: Crowds at Solstice in Kukulcan.

Crowds at Solstice in Kukulcan.

“At first temples were lofted atop step pyramids to worship the Serpent God, and the skies were observed to watch for the key celestial cycles. But there came a time when the god – or all the celestial gods – had left. Seen no more, they were presumed to have been swallowed by the ruler of the night, the jaguar; and the image of the great god was henceforth covered by the jaguar’s mask, through which the serpents, his erstwhile symbol, still emerge.

“But had no Quetzalcoatl promised to return?

“Fervently the skywatchers of the jungles consulted ancient almanacs. Priests advanced the notions that the vanished deities would return if offered the throbbing hearts of human victims.

“But at some crucial calendrical date in the ninth century A.D., a prophesied event failed to occur. All the cycles came together, and added up to naught. And so were the ceremonial centers and the deities dedicated to the gods abandoned, and the jungle cast its green mantle over the domain of the Serpent Gods.

Continue to Chapter 5: Strangers from across the Seas